Perspective: The oldest lesson Australia never learnt

Perspective: The oldest lesson Australia never learnt

Every year, NAIDOC week offers the opportunity for all to recognise and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activism that have defended and protected our Cultures, Country, languages and knowledge systems.

This years’ theme Always Was, Always Will Be is important. It recognises and reflects the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ place on this continent that predates British colonisation and that our sovereignty has never been ceded. It also reminds us that there is not an inch of this continent that wasn’t fought for, or cared for by First Nations mob. The land holds so many stories, including the experiences and stories shared with settler people. 

History is important for all young people to learn and understand. As a Darumbal woman growing up in Rockhampton, Central Queensland, I grew up learning about the Blackbird trade that stole my great-great-grandfather, the massacres and land clearings of Darumbal People, the stolen wages of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as the strength, resilience of my People. I grew up seeing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led organisations; our own radio station, our own medical service, our own early childhood centre, the revival of our language, our land being handed back in trust and much more recently Native Title.

What we learn about history, where we learn it and how we learn it, matters. For me knowing this history contributes to my sense of belonging and understanding the events that have shaped the world and society that I now experience. The truth of our past is tough but essential.

The National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition (NIYEC) in partnership with In My Blood It Runs and BE, are working together to encourage all Australians to Learn Our Truth. NIYEC asked young First Nations people about their experience learning history in school. What we learnt from them was that when young First Nations people don’t have the opportunity to learn First Nations experiences and perspectives of history in school, in a culturally safe way, then it feels like erasure.

"It made me angry and sad. We only learn just a tip of the iceberg and not the whole story. I think that all Australians should learn about our past and this should be a top priority within the curriculum." - Waanyi Student

"At the time I felt like that’s just the way life is, society and my school proved that my people’s history wasn’t worth teaching." - Gomeroi young person

There are critiques of the national curriculum scantily covering First Nations history or the limited development opportunities for educators to learn how to teach First Nations history confidently in the classroom. These are both important issues to discuss, but they’re not the only issues. 

The Australian public needs to understand our full history so that we can have a public dialogue about the future of this continent from a position of common ground with a true and accurate understanding of the past events that have shaped and continue to shape our society. For all young people, learning history in those senior secondary years needs to be seen as valuable for their future pathway, regardless of what career or passion they choose to pursue. Learning First Nations history is about supporting all young people with knowledge, skills and grounding needed to be active citizens that help shape our future. 

For the First Nations young people, we asked that did have a good experience learning history, it changed from a failing grade to one where young mob felt empowered both at school and as members of their community. 

"It made me feel proud to be an Aboriginal girl and proud of my culture.” - 14-year-old, Worimi

“That things in the past are still happening today to a degree, and that I needed to stand up, protest, something anything.” - 17-year-old, Ngunnawal

“Connected, it felt good knowing my peers would learn and see life through my peoples' eyes and the struggles we faced and still do today. It should be compulsory to learn in school and the community.” - 19-year-old, Gumbaynggirr, Dunghutti and Wiradjuri

If we are going to have a schooling system that supports all our young people to thrive - then we need to be teaching Australia’s true history. In celebration of NAIDOC Week, listen to a deadly panel of young mob who will take a closer look at the importance of learning our true local history to protect our sacred sites and understand their significance. This will be streamed Live on Facebook on the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition Facebook page 17 November 2020, 6PM AEST

Learn our truth

Hayley McQuire
is the Co-Chair of Learning Creates Australia, Co-Founder and National Coordinator of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition (NIYEC).